CINCINNATI -- What's wrong with Buick Regal sales?
That's the question asked often of Buick executives over the past 18 months. Why 18 months? Because that's around the time the smaller, less expensive Verano compact sedan entered Buick's lineup.
When there's not enough space between two sedans in a showroom, the cheaper car will win every time. After plunging 39 percent last year, Regal sales have continued to slide, down 38 percent through September, to 12,767 units. The mid-sized sedan is now the lightest seller in Buick's lineup.
I got a chance to drive Buick's answer to this problem during a media drive here of the re-engineered 2014 Regal, which goes on sale this month. My take: I don't know if it'll reverse Regal's sales slide. But General Motors has made the Regal a more compelling buy and created more daylight between it and the Verano.
The biggest change is the replacement of the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine with a new one that boosts horsepower 18 percent, to 259 hp. Fuel economy rises to 21 mpg city/30 highway, vs. 18/29 for the old 2.0-liter model.
There's more torque, too, and the addition of optional all-wheel drive and a much cleaner center stack with an upgraded IntelliLink infotainment system.
That's all good. But it's this move that I think is the key to differentiating the two sedans: that improved 2.0-liter now becomes the Regal's base engine.
Today, the Regal's base is a 2.4-liter four banger -- the same one used in the Verano, but paired with GM's eAssist mild hybrid system. (Buick will continue to offer eAssist as an option on a midlevel trim, but expects just a 10 to 15 percent take rate.)
Distinguishing the powertrain lineups helps clarify Buick's strategy for the Regal, which will be sold almost exclusively as a zippy turbo, including the thundering GS performance model.
The car still stickers for around 30 grand, though, so its sales prospects will continue to be limited by the Verano. GM execs say they're OK with that, as long as the sporty Regal really does draw a new breed of buyers to Buick showrooms.
"The focus was to put the Regal in the right place in the portfolio and add some sportiness and fun to the lineup," says Roger McCormack, director of Buick product marketing. "The sales will be what they will be."